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The history of Fairbanks , the second-largest city in Alaska , can be traced to the founding of a trading post by E. Barnette on the south bank of the Chena River on August 26, The area had seen human occupation since at least the last ice age, but a permanent settlement was not established at the site of Fairbanks until the start of the 20th century. The discovery of gold near Barnette's trading post caused him to turn what had been a temporary stop into a permanent one.
The gold caused a stampede of miners to the area, and buildings sprang up around Barnette's trading post. In November , the area's residents voted to incorporate the city of Fairbanks. Barnette became the city's first mayor, and the city flourished as thousands of people came to search for gold during the Fairbanks Gold Rush. By the time of World War I , the easy-to-reach gold was exhausted and Fairbanks' population plunged as miners moved to promising finds at Ruby and Iditarod.
Construction of the Alaska Railroad caused a surge of economic activity and allowed heavy equipment to be brought in for further exploitation of Fairbanks' gold deposits. Enormous gold dredges were built north of Fairbanks, and the city grew throughout the s as the price of gold rose during the Great Depression. A further boom came during the s and s as the city became a staging area for the construction of military depots during World War II and the first decade of the Cold War.
Fairbanks became a supply point for exploitation of the oil field and for construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System , which caused a boom unseen since the first years of Fairbanks' founding and helped the town recover from the devastating Fairbanks Flood. Fairbanks became a government center in the late s with the establishment of the Fairbanks North Star Borough , which took Fairbanks as its borough seat. A drop in oil prices during the s caused a recession in the Fairbanks area, but the city gradually recovered as oil prices climbed during the s.
Tourism also became an important factor in Fairbanks' economy, and the growth of the tourism industry and the city continues even as oil production declines. Though there was never a permanent Alaska Native settlement at the site of Fairbanks, Athabascan Indians have used the area for thousands of years. An archaeological site excavated on the grounds of the University of Alaska Fairbanks uncovered a Native camp about 3, years old. The first recorded exploration of the Tanana Valley and the Tanana River did not take place until , but historians believe Russian traders from Nulato and Hudson's Bay Company traders ventured into the lower reaches of the Tanana and possibly the Chena River in the middle of the 19th century.
Army led the first recorded expedition down the length of the Tanana River, charting the Chena River's mouth along the way. Some of these travelers sailed around the western tip of Alaska and up the Yukon River to Dawson City site of the goldfields rather than take an arduous overland trip across the Boundary Ranges. One of these adventurers was E. After venturing upstream several miles, the boat reached an impassable point. Barnette suggested the Chena River then called the Rock River might be a slough of the Tanana and a way around the low water.
The captain of the Young did not want to travel downstream with a heavy load because of the danger posed by the extra mass. He therefore unloaded Barnette's cargo on August 26, , with an irate Barnette assisting. Barnette began building a cabin at a site he named "Chenoa City", and he sold supplies to two prospectors , Felix Pedro and Tom Gilmore, who were in the area. The mountain pass they traveled through was later named Isabel Pass in honor of Barnette's wife. Michael, where he built a steamboat, the Isabelle , and began sailing up the Yukon in August Felix Pedro had discovered gold.
He suggested Barnette name his settlement Fairbanks, after Charles W. Fairbanks , the senior Senator from Indiana. When Barnette and the Isabelle' s crew heard of Pedro's discovery, they immediately fled the boat and the settlement to stake claims on creeks and likely gold-bearing spots 12 miles 19 km north, near the mountain and creek Pedro named after himself.
Each man could pick a set amount of space, which was marked with posts at each corner, hence "staking" the claim. When Barnette and the crew of the Isabelle were staking claims, Barnette proclaimed himself the interim recorder until an official one could be brought to the area. Although they also recorded their claims with Barnette, most men also reported their claims at the official office in Circle. He staked claims in their names, thus giving him authority over a large portion of what was believed to be the gold-bearing terrain.
Word of Pedro's discovery spread during the months that followed Barnette's arrival in September In December, he wrote to a friend in Seattle, "A message came yesterday that 1, people had left Nome during the last three days for here. I look for half of Dawson here before spring. When the miners from Nome, Dawson, Rampart , and other places arrived in the Tanana Valley, they were disappointed with what they found. Hundreds of claims were staked, but none were close to Pedro's discovery claims, which had been taken by the crew of the Isabelle and other early arrivers.
The Dawson Daily News reported that one man claimed portions of 20 acres 81, m 2 apiece. Land speculation was fierce in Chena, where claims were frequently stolen and had to be enforced with firearms. s vary, but historians estimate that by spring , between and 1, men arrived in the Tanana Valley. They gathered outside his store and demanded he lower his prices or they would burn it down. He responded that he had riflemen inside the building, and both groups reached a compromise.
In April, Judge Wickersham arrived on a trip looking for a location for the courthouse, jail, and government offices for the Third District courts. He later described his first view of the settlement: "A half-dozen new squat log structures, a few tents Representatives Francis W.
Cushman of Washington and John F. Lacey of Iowa. Wickersham estimated people in town, and another count estimated 1,, with houses under construction, six saloons , and no churches. Hundreds left on rafts going downriver or steamers going to Dawson City. In fall , the flood of miners leaving the Tanana Valley ended when major gold strikes were made north of Fairbanks.
The gold was deeper than in the Klondike, and it had taken time to dig to it. By Christmas , there were between 1, and 1, miners in the valley. Despite the food shortage, more buildings were constructed. The Northern Commercial Company built a store to replace Barnette's cabin, and Wickersham recorded a wide range of businesses, including houses and 1, people.
The vote passed, and Barnette was sworn in as the city's first mayor on the next day. Barnette's first action as mayor was to write a letter to Washington, D. One of Barnette's brothers-in-law, James W. Hill, was given a year contract to provide electricity, drinking water, and steam heat to the city. Barnette opened the town's first bank on September 9, Low water on the Chena River prevented steamboats from reaching Fairbanks, so a railroad line was built from the Tanana River at Chena to Fairbanks and the mines north of town.
The river rose, flooding the town, and the bridge had to be dynamited to halt the flood. Joseph's , was built on the north bank of the Chena. Other schools were built on the north side of the Chena River, which was separate from town. In , the U. Army al Corps built a radiotelegraph tower in town, replacing the cable telegraph system to Valdez and Seattle.
The feet 54 m tower was the tallest structure in town for decades. Although he was found guilty of only one of 11 charges against him, Barnette had a poor reputation in Fairbanks. The accusations against Barnette were big news in a town that had little crime. Prostitution was restricted to a district separated from the rest of town by a wooden fence. The "line," as it was known, operated until the s with the tacit approval of city authorities. As one miner recalled, not more than one man in carried a gun, and while fisticuffs were common, gunfights were not. Thousands more people lived in mining camps outside the city itself.
Stores that sold to miners closed, as did those that supported the mines directly. A local judge later stated that the war "set Fairbanks back by 10 years" because it dried up construction and sent men overseas. Although Fairbanks was in decline, two major projects mitigated the worst effects of the post-gold rush slump: construction of the Alaska Railroad and the creation of the University of Alaska.
In , L. Nadeau of the Northern Pacific Railroad predicted a railroad link to the ocean would allow gold miners to bring in heavy equipment and process large amounts of low-grade ore. In , the Alaska Railroad purchased the Tanana Valley Railroad, which had suffered from the wartime economic problems.
In , the town burned between 12, and 14, cords of wood, with the Northern Commercial Company owners of the power plant burning 8, cords alone. President Warren G. Harding visited Fairbanks in as part of a trip to hammer in the ceremonial final spike of the railroad at Nenana.
In , Wickersham gained approval of a bill funding the college from the 63rd United States Congress. On July 4, , acting "without the authority of law," he laid the cornerstone for the school. The site for the school was directly north of the U. The farm was a project by the U. Department of Agriculture to explore the agricultural potential of Interior Alaska. Under the Homestead Act , many miners applied for grants of land from the federal government and established farms around the city. A survey by the U. Geological Survey identified 94 homeste within six miles of Fairbanks.
Also listed were two tungsten mills and 16 gold mills. Agriculture in the area was spurred by food and fodder shortages during the winters of , , and Wickersham provided more funding for the experimental farm, the Tanana Valley Railroad provided free grain seed acquired from an experimental farm in Sweden, and William Fentress Thompson , the editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner , wrote frequent editorials supporting more farming.
Farmers also created the Tanana Valley State Fair in to demonstrate their agricultural success. It is Alaska's oldest state fair and still operates today. A farmers' bank established in to provide loans for equipment purchases went out of business two years later,  and although the Alaska Railroad allowed for cheaper shipment of tractors and other agricultural equipment, it also permitted a steady supply of food shipments to Fairbanks. After the completion of the Alaska Railroad, it became economically feasible to bring in heavy equipment and build gold dredges to work the large amount of low-grade ore that remained after the Fairbanks Gold Rush.
This price increase encouraged mining and insulated Fairbanks from the Great Depression. In , Fairbanks' two-story school, built in , burned to the ground. On January 22, , the new school opened. Until , Fairbanks lacked paved streets. The town's dirt ro turned to dust in summer and thick mud in spring and fall, causing problems as Fairbanks' population grew in the s. Collins , proposed using a federal grant and city bonds to pave the ro, but he was turned down by voters. The next year, he tried again and was successful. By , the first 0. About the time of the completion of the Alaska Railroad and the beginning of the dredging era in Fairbanks, Alaska's aviation industry began to take off.
The first airplane flight in Alaska took place in Fairbanks on July 4, , when a barnstormer flew from a field south of town. The pilot subsequently tried to sell the aircraft, but had no takers. Given Alaska's limited road and rail infrastructure, the territorial government saw the advantages of aerial transport. Between that year and , more than 20 airfields were built.
By , Alaska had more than Wiley Post 's solo circum stopped in Fairbanks, as did Howard Hughes ' effort. Military flights also used Fairbanks as a base. In , the first flight from the contiguous United States to Alaska used Fairbanks as a base. In reality, the bombers flew photographic missions intended to scout locations for military airfields to be built in the territory.
In his final public appearance, U. Army General Billy Mitchell said, "I believe that, in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world I think it is the most important strategic place in the world. In the first winter after the dedication, soldiers practiced flying and servicing aircraft in subzero weather conditions. More than 1, workers,  most of whom were hired from outside Alaska, worked on the project through Fairbanks received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor via civilian shortwave radio operators who passed the news to the U.
Army base. Ladd Field's cold-weather testing detachment was disbanded as its soldiers were used to bolster Alaska defenses at other locations. During summer , more soldiers arrived in Fairbanks to replace those moved away from town. Fairbanks residents were drafted to work at Ladd Field because the U. Army believed Alaskans were best experienced in cold-weather work.Hookers in Fairbanks Alaska mass
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History of Fairbanks, Alaska